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Brazil Team at Crossroads: The Struggle Post-Copa America and the Neymar Factor

Neymar, the iconic Brazilian football star, was never meant to participate in the recent Copa America after suffering a ruptured ACL in his left knee last October. On a fateful Saturday night in Las Vegas, Brazil faced Uruguay in the Copa America quarterfinals. As Brazil fell, Neymar was found emotionally distraught, shedding tears for his teammates during a samba concert back in Brazil.

The early elimination from the tournament was a hard blow for a team and its all-time leading scorer who had seemingly not placed much focus on winning the Copa America from the outset. With ambitions now set on achieving different outcomes at the next World Cup, both Neymar and his teammates have an arduous journey ahead.

The signs are worrisome, and there appears to be a lack of meaningful engagement between Neymar and the rest of the squad as they look forward. His absence at the Copa was unavoidable after the serious knee injury. Additionally, Vinicius Junior, who emerged as Brazil’s top scorer at the Copa with just two goals, was suspended for the crucial quarterfinal clash against Uruguay. Teenage prodigy, Endrick, failed to score throughout the tournament, adding to the team’s woes.

Going into the Copa America, expectations for Brazil to claim their first title in 17 years were already dwindling. The scenario looked grim with Brazil positioned sixth in South American World Cup qualifying standings, with no Neymar, and the looming presence of World Cup champions Argentina. Despite subdued expectations, the reality of a goalless draw against Costa Rica, being outplayed by Colombia, and failing to score against a 10-man Uruguay side was a stark disappointment.

In an unusual move, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) publicly acknowledged the team’s shortcomings via social media on Monday, stating, “It is not the first time that they say we are finished, but believe it, we will win again. We are the national team that has won the most in the history of the game. But losing is also part of our history.”

Football analysts, former players, and pundits believe that the team can regroup but question whether the current head coach Dorival Júnior, who has only been in charge since January, is the right person to lead the revival. Concerns also surround Neymar’s focus, as critics assert he is squandering his talent playing in Saudi Arabia, far removed from the competitive rigor of Europe’s top leagues, and is overly absorbed in his private life.

Observers also suggest Brazil wasted a year under interim coach Fernando Diniz while waiting for Carlo Ancelotti to leave Real Madrid. Discussing Brazil’s need for progress, TV Globo pundit Júnior, a former player from Brazil’s 1982 World Cup squad, emphasized the urgency for change, “We need to speed it up after this Copa America because we are starting World Cup preparations now. France has kept the same coach for years, maintaining much of their player core. Spain was in a similar state as ours and now they are ahead. Argentina is aging but remains formidable.

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. Meanwhile, Brazil is notably falling behind.”

References to a historical turning point in 2001 have fueled some optimism among nostalgic fans. That year, under new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil was humiliatingly ousted from the Copa quarterfinals by Honduras. However, following that debacle, Brazil’s then-star Ronaldo, despite missing that Copa and recovering from his second ACL injury, led a rejuvenated team to its fifth World Cup victory in 2002.

However, Brazil’s dismal performance at this year’s Copa America saw several players damaging their prospects for the 2026 World Cup. Key players like goalkeeper Alisson, defender Danilo, midfielder João Gomes, and striker Raphinha underperformed, putting their positions under threat.

Reflecting on the team’s journey, Danilo expressed his honor at being part of the squad despite their early exit, “It was an honor for me to be with this squad; there was a lot of work, professionalism, and effort. This young team showed it could achieve great things. I just hope that people are a little more patient.”

Neymar’s recovery and subsequent role in the national team remain contentious topics within Brazilian football circles. At 32, Neymar has become a polarizing figure, with disputes involving celebrities, politicians, and other footballers. This tension has even led to debates amongst supporters about his place in the national team.

Despite his controversies, analysts argue that Neymar emerged as the biggest Brazilian winner from the ongoing Copa America, highlighting his significance for Brazil’s future. Coach Júnior shared his thoughts, “Neymar is one of the greats of world soccer, and God willing he will continue to be. We need patience for him to come back at his best. He is a very important player for us, and we need to give him enough time, not rush his recovery.”

According to a source within the CBF, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, Neymar is unlikely to participate in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in September.

Nevertheless, Coach Júnior remains optimistic about Brazil’s future, with or without Neymar, stating, “Two years from now, the same people who are speaking too much might have to swallow another big achievement of our national team. Be calm and patient, follow our work being developed. I wish I could have delivered a better result at this Copa America, but this is a process.”

As Brazil looks ahead, the road to redemption and the quest for another World Cup crown appear fraught with challenges, uncertainties, and high expectations.

/ (With agency inputs)